WOMEN living with HIV (WLHIV) are not deemed a priority population in Australia’s response to the illness and often live in isolation, but a new national day has been established to recognised them.

National Day of Women Living with HIV Australia was launched today to raise awareness for the estimated 2700 WLHIV in Australia, about 10 per cent of the overall population of people living with HIV.

 “Too often, WLHIV in Australia are considered as an afterthought or swept up in the generic term ‘people living with HIV’,” Femfatales chair Kath Leane said.

“Women when not well supported will often go underground after diagnosis and hide in fear or shame of being constantly labelled, judged and stigmatised.

“This leaves a larger proportion of WLHIV dealing with their diagnosis alone.”

Positive Life NSW president Jane Costello said there were a number of gender differences in HIV in Australia. These include: reproductive health as well as the particular psychological issues for women with HIV in relation to reproduction and family; gaps in research into the efficacy of anti-retroviral treatments as well as side-effects that are specific to the female body; the substantially greater rate of HIV diagnosis among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women than non-Indigenous women; a lack of research into hormonal difference between men and women and the impact that has on women with HIV and treatments; the lack of support networks, both formal and informal for women by comparison with gay men; and the alarming numbers of women with HIV living in poverty.

“Whilst there is a relatively well established culture of HIV testing within the gay community, this is not the case in the wider community where HIV is still most commonly perceived as a gay male disease,” Costello said in a speech at the launch of the national day.

“Unfortunately, that perception filters through to some in the medical profession, and I know of more than one woman who on asking their GP for an HIV test was told ‘oh, you don’t need that’ or ‘why?’.

“Sadly, several of those women have subsequently been diagnosed HIV positive.”

The National Association of People With HIV Australia has an online resource for WLHIV which covers issues such as disclosure, treatment, having children and mental health support.

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